Once upon a time, a widely circulated Jewish document
described Islam as "an act of God's Mercy".
Also, Jews in the near East, north Africa and Spain
threw their support behind advancing Muslim Arab armies.
No, these aren't fairy tales or propaganda. The
relationship between Muslims and Jews really was that cooperative and
marked by peaceful coexistence.
Just ask Khalid Siddiqi of the Islamic Education and
Information Center in San Jose, California where he also teaches Islamic
Studies and Arabic at Chabot College and Ohlone College.
Siddiqi notes that the first quote above is from S. D.
Goitein's book Jews and Arabs. The second is from Merlin Swartz's 'The
Position of Jews in Arab lands following the rise of Islam' (reprinted
from The Muslim World. Hartford Seminary Foundation LXI1970).
Swartz also says the Muslim Arab conquest marked the
dawn of a new era. Those forces that had led to the progressive
isolation and disruption of Jewish life were not only checked they were
In an interview with Sound Vision, Siddiqi gave
numerous examples of Jews flourishing under Muslim rule in places like
Spain, Morocco, North African in general and various parts of the Middle
Siddiqi points out that Islam as a religion has given
specific guidelines for the followers of Islam to base their
relationship with any non-Muslim. These include People of Scripture,
like the Jews, people who belong to other religions, and even atheists.
Non-Muslims must be treated on the basis of Birr (kindness) and Qist
(justice), as referred to Surah 60 verse 8 of the Quran.
It started at the time of the
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)
The peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews began at
the time of the Prophet.
Siddiqi notes that the Jews welcomed the Prophet when
he arrived in Madinah at the time of Hijrah (migration), along with the
rest of the city's inhabitants.
But the Prophet had begun the step towards good
relations with Jewish and other communities in Madinah even before
After receiving an invitation to Madinah from one of
the city's tribes that had accepted Islam, the Prophet signed treaties
with the city's Jewish, Christian and polytheist tribes before he
These treaties clearly laid out responsibilities of
each of the parties. It was based on these that the Prophet established
the Mithaq al Madinah, the
constitution of Madinah.
Siddiqi says this was the first constitution of the
world and one of the greatest political documents ever prepared by any
human being. It is the oldest surviving constitution of any state.
Under this constitution, any Jew who followed the
Muslims was entitled to their assistance and the same rights as anyone
of them without any injustice or partisanship.
It said the Jews are an Ummah (community of believers)
alongside the Muslims. The Jews have their religion and the Muslims
theirs. As well, it noted that each will assist one another against any
violation of this covenant.
Jews during the Muslim era
Despite this early breach of contract, there are still
numerous examples from Muslim history of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and
Siddiqi gave examples of how Muslim Spain, which was a
"golden era" of creativity and advancement for Muslims was also one for
While Europe was in its Dark Ages and Jews were
reviled there, Muslims in Spain during the same period worked side by
side with Jews in developing literature, science and art.
Together, they translated classical Greek texts into
Arabic. This task later helped Europe move out of the Dark Ages and into
Jews flourished under Muslim rule in Egypt as well,
where they achieved very high positions in government.
Siddiqi quotes some lines from an Arab poet of that
time, to illustrate: 'Today the Jews have reached the summit of their
hopes and have become aristocrats. Power and riches have they and from
them councilors and princes are chosen'.
Today: the forced expulsion
of Palestinians from their homeland has destroyed good Muslim-Jewish
So what happened?
Although not the only cause, a large part of the
deterioration in Muslim-Jewish relations comes from the emergence of
Zionism, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland by
Zionist Jews and British colonizers, as well as their continuing
Siddiqi says, "while this reaction results in
anti-Jewish feeling it must be seen in its proper historical context. It
must be remembered that anti-Jewish sentiments in so far as it is to be
found in the contemporary Arab world is strictly a modern phenomenon and
one that runs counter to the time honored Islamic tradition of
fraternity and tolerance.
"The very widespread popular notion that present day
Arab-Jewish hostility is but another chapter in a long history of mutual
animosity is totally false. If there is one thing the past makes clear
it is precisely that Arabs and Jews can live together peacefully and in
a mutually beneficial relationship. History also makes it very clear
that they are the heirs to the Islamic tradition of openness and
The key to reestablishing good relations between
Muslims and Jews again is justice, notes Siddiqui. This principle is
foreign to neither Islam nor Judaism.
In Islam, standing up for justice, he points out, must
be done even if it is against ourselves, our parents, our kin, the rich
or the poor. This is clearly mentioned in the Quran (4:135).
Siddiqi points out that the emphasis on justice is
also mentioned in Jewish scripture in the prophecies of Michael in
chapter three: "Zion shall be redeemed with justice and by those who
will come to her with righteousness."